Addressing Paul Williams’ False Accusations Pt. 3
We resume our discussion.
Williams would also like me to address his misuse of Jesus’ words to the rich young ruler that is found in Mark 10:17-25 and Matthew 19:16-24 (as well as Luke 18:18-25). Since he takes a cheap shot at me by stating that I may have not heard his appeal to and explanation of this passage in his debate, it will be my pleasure to address his misreading of the text.
Here is how that passage reads in Mark:
“As He was setting out on a journey, a man ran up to Him and knelt before Him, and asked Him, ‘Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Why do you call Me good? No one is good except God alone. You know the commandments, “DO NOT MURDER, DO NOT COMMIT ADULTERY, DO NOT STEAL, DO NOT BEAR FALSE WITNESS, Do not defraud, HONOR YOUR FATHER AND MOTHER.”’ And he said to Him, ‘Teacher, I have kept all these things from my youth up.’ Looking at him, Jesus felt a love for him and said to him, ‘One thing you lack: go and sell all you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.’ But at these words he was saddened, and he went away grieving, for he was one who owned much property.” Mark 10:17-22
The assertion being made is that not only does Jesus deny that salvation comes from his sacrificial death or by faith in him, he even rejects the claim of being good since God alone is intrinsically and essentially good. Williams and others take this to mean that Jesus denied being God.
In order to properly understand what Jesus meant here it is vitally important that we examine Christ’s statements in the immediate and wider contexts of Mark’s Gospel. After all, the story of the rich man comes after Mark has already provided a considerable amount of information on Christ in order to help us understand who exactly Jesus thought he was. To, therefore, simply ignore all that precedes this particular chapter is to do a great disservice to Mark.
We start at the very beginning of Mark’s Gospel:
“The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. As it is written in Isaiah the prophet: ‘BEHOLD, I SEND MY MESSENGER AHEAD OF YOU, WHO WILL PREPARE YOUR WAY; THE VOICE OF ONE CRYING IN THE WILDERNESS, “MAKE READY THE WAY OF THE LORD, MAKE HIS PATHS STRAIGHT.”’ John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” Mark 1:1-4 – cf. Matthew 3:1-3; Luke 3:1-6; John 1:14-15, 23
In his introduction, Mark quotes two OT texts, namely Malachi 3:1 and Isaiah 40:3, to show that the events which he is writing about were announced long ago in the scriptures of the prophets.
According to these specific prophecies, a herald would be sent to prepare the people for the coming of Yahweh God Almighty himself:
“A voice is calling, ‘Clear the way for the LORD in the wilderness; Make smooth in the desert a highway for our God. ‘Let every valley be lifted up, And every mountain and hill be made low; And let the rough ground become a plain, And the rugged terrain a broad valley; Then the glory of the LORD will be revealed, And all flesh will see it together; For the mouth of the LORD has spoken.’ Get yourself up on a high mountain, O Zion, bearer of good news, Lift up your voice mightily, O Jerusalem, bearer of good news; Lift it up, do not fear. Say to the cities of Judah, ‘Here is your God!’ Behold, the Lord GOD will come with might, With His arm ruling for Him. Behold, His reward is with Him And His recompense before Him. Like a shepherd He will tend His flock, In His arm He will gather the lambs And carry them in His bosom; He will gently lead the nursing ewes.” Isaiah 40:3-5, 9-11
“‘Behold, I am going to send My messenger, and he will clear the way before Me. And the Lord (ha adon), whom you seek, will suddenly come to HIS temple; and the messenger of the covenant, in whom you delight, behold, He is coming,’ says the LORD of hosts.” Malachi 3:1
That Malachi is saying that God himself would come is made evident by the fact that the words ha adon are only used of Yahweh in the OT Scriptures. Case in point:
“Therefore the Lord (ha adon) GOD of hosts, The Mighty One of Israel, declares, ‘Ah, I will be relieved of My adversaries And avenge Myself on My foes.” Isaiah 3:24 – cf. 3:1; 10:16, 33; 19:4; Micah 4:13
Malachi also says that the Lord is coming to his temple, which further confirms that the One coming is God Almighty since the OT writings make it clear that the temple was built for the glory of Yahweh (cf. 1 Chronicles 29:1; 2 Chronicles 6:1-2).
Mark tells us that that herald was John the Baptist. Jesus himself confirms that the Baptist was the messenger whom Malachi said would come to prepare the way for the coming of the Lord himself:
“This is the one about whom it is written, ‘BEHOLD, I SEND MY MESSENGER AHEAD OF YOU, WHO WILL PREPARE YOUR WAY BEFORE YOU.’” Matthew 11:10 – cf. Luke 7:27
Now what makes this rather astonishing is that all four Gospels agree that John the Baptist was sent to prepare the way for the Lord Jesus. This means that, as far as the Gospels are concerned, Jesus Christ is actually the Lord God who was to come to his own temple and dwell among his people!
In fact, Jesus even goes so far as to identify himself as the One who will do what Isaiah 40 says Yahweh does, namely recompense every person!
“For the Son of Man is going to come in the glory of HIS Father with HIS angels, and WILL THEN REPAY EVERY MAN ACCORDING TO HIS DEEDS.” Matthew 16:27 - cf. Revelation 2:18-23; 22:12-13, 16, 20
This language also echoes what the prophet Isaiah said later about Yahweh, and is in fact a teaching that is common in the prophetic writings:
"Behold, the LORD has proclaimed to the end of the earth, Say to the daughter of Zion, 'Lo, your salvation comes; Behold His reward is with Him, and His recompense before Him.'” Isaiah 62:11 - cf. 59:18
"Requite them according to their work and according to the evil of their practices; Requite them according to the deeds of their hands; Repay them their recompense." Psalm 28:4 - cf. 62:12; Proverbs 24:12; Jeremiah 17:10; 25:13-14
In light of the foregoing, can the evidence get any clearer that Mark and the rest of the Gospels affirm the absolute Deity of Christ?
Just in case Williams still has doubts that this is what Mark and the other witnesses are actually saying, we present our argument in the form of a logical syllogism so that he doesn’t miss this very important fact.
A. Both Isaiah and Malachi refer to an envoy being sent to prepare the people for the coming of Yahweh God.
B. All four Gospels agree that John the Baptist was that envoy.
C. These same Gospels also testify that the Baptist came to prepare the people for the coming of the Lord Jesus.
D. This, therefore, proves that Jesus Christ is Yahweh God Almighty according to all four Gospels!
Yet this is not the end of the story as far as Mark is concerned. Mark goes on to quote the words of the Baptist concerning the Person of Christ:
“And he was preaching, and saying, ‘After me One is coming who is mightier than I, and I am not fit to stoop down and untie the thong of His sandals. I baptized you with water; but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.’” Mark 1:7-8 – cf. Matthew 3:11-12; Luke 3:15-17; John 1:32-33
By stating that he was unfit to untie the thong of Jesus’ sandals the Baptist was pretty much indicating that he wasn’t even good enough to be a slave of Christ since it was the job of servants to untie the sandals of guests and to provide water for their feet. This astonishing admission becomes all the more remarkable when we keep in mind that Christ himself said that no human being born up until the time of John was greater than the Baptist (cf. Matthew 11:11; Luke 7:28).
Therefore, if the greatest man who ever lived up until that time wasn’t even worthy enough to be Jesus’ servant then what does this say about the Person of Christ?
If this weren’t mind boggling enough, the Baptist goes on to say that Christ will baptize individuals with the Holy Spirit, which is a function that the OT ascribes only to Yahweh!
The prophetic witness is clear that it is Yahweh who pours out his Holy Spirit upon his servants:
“Thus you will know that I am in the midst of Israel, And that I am the LORD your God, And there is no other; And My people will never be put to shame. It will come about after this That I will pour out MY Spirit on all mankind; And your sons and daughters will prophesy, Your old men will dream dreams, Your young men will see visions. Even on the male and female servants I will pour out MY Spirit in those days. Joel 2:27-29 – cf. Isaiah 32:14-15; 34:16; 40:1-3; 59:15b-21; Ezekiel 36:24-28; 37:12-14; 39:29
Hence, for Jesus to be able to baptize people with the Holy Spirit is simply another clear-cut evidence that Mark believed that Christ is God! As the following Evangelical scholars explain:
“The New Testament's treatment of the Spirit of God as the Spirit of Christ, and especially its teaching that Jesus Christ sent the Spirit to act on his behalf, is one of the most striking evidences that the New Testament writers thought of Jesus as God. As Max Turner has argued,
There is simply no analogy for an exalted human (or any other creature) becoming so integrated with God that such a person may be said to ‘commission’ God’s Spirit, and through that to extend that exalted person's own ‘presence’ and activity to people on earth. For the Jew, such relationship to, and activity in or through, the Spirit appears to be necessarily, inalienably, and so distinctively, God’s.24 …
“Mehrdad Fatehi, in his doctoral dissertation on the Spirit’s relation to the risen Lord in the writings of Paul, argues that ‘Paul’s use of the Spirit-language with reference to Christ … cannot be regarded as simply another case of God’s delegating one of his functions or prerogatives to a chief agent.’ That is because ‘the Spirit stands not for one of God's functions but for God himself when he directly acts to discharge such functions.’ He concludes, ‘It may be possible for God, and the evidence from Judaism shows that it was regarded to be possible for him, to delegate or share some of his prerogatives or functions, but the same evidence shows that it did not seem plausible for the Jews to think of God delegating or sharing himself, so to speak, as he was present and active through his Spirit.25 The implication is that Paul thought of Christ as truly divine.’
If the Spirit language was an exclusively God-language in Judaism, the fact that this language is used to express Christ's presence and activity in the same ways that it was used to express God's, establishes that Paul and the Pauline believers viewed Christ as ‘divine.’26” (Putting Jesus In His Place, Part 4, Chapter 17, pp. 220-221; bold emphasis ours)
Even one of Williams’ favorite NT scholars James D. G. Dunn states that the Spirit refers to God’s own presence and power which he manifests within creation, especially to his people:
“Although we find some overlap between angels and spirit(s) in Jewish thinking, the Spirit of God was more naturally understood as closely identified with God, as a dimension or an aspect of God, or as a way of characterizing God’s presence and power. For example, in 1 Samuel King Saul’s state can equally well be described as ‘the Spirit of the Lord departed from Saul’ (1 Sam. 16.14) and as ‘the Lord had departed from Saul’ (18.12). Since the Hebrew ruach has a range of meaning from ‘wind’ to ‘breath’ and ‘spirit’, the wind at Israel’s crossing of the Red Sea can be called poetically the blast (ruach) of God’s nostrils. ‘The Spirit of God’ is synonymous with ‘the breath of the Almighty.’ In Isaiah 31.3 the power of ruach is the distinguishing characteristic of God, just as the weakness of flesh is the characteristic of human beings. In Isaiah ‘my Spirit’, ‘the Spirit of the Lord’ and ‘God’s holy spirit’ are variant ways of speaking of the divine presence, the divine ‘I.’ Particularly in Ezekiel ‘the Spirit’ is synonymous with ‘the hand of the Lord’. And in Psalm 139.7 ‘your Spirit’ is set in synonyms parallel with ‘your presence’. It is hardly surprising, then, that Paul can think of the Spirit of God as analogous to the human spirit: ‘the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For what human being knows what is truly human except the human spirit that is within him?’ (1 Cor. 2.10-11). As one could speak of one’s spirit as one’s inner being, a dimension or aspect rather than a part of oneself, so presumably one spoke of the Spirit of God as one of the ways of conceptualizing how God interacted with his creation and his people. The Spirit of God was/is the real presence of God, God breathing out his inspiration into prophet and sage.” (Dunn, Did the First Christians Worship Jesus? The New Testament Evidence [Westminster John Knox Press, 2010], 3. Monotheism, heavenly mediators, and divine agents, 3.3. Spirit, Wisdom and Word, pp. 72-73; bold emphasis ours)
Therefore, the only way that Christ could send forth God’s very own presence and power to fill and indwell people is if he himself is God Incarnate. There is simply no way around this fact!
Mark also depicts Jesus as having authority to forgive sins committed against God and possessing the supernatural ability to heal all diseases and to know exactly what people are thinking within themselves:
“And Jesus seeing their faith said to the paralytic, ‘Son, your sins are forgiven.’ But some of the scribes were sitting there and reasoning in their hearts, ‘Why does this man speak that way? He is blaspheming; who can forgive sins but God alone?’ Immediately Jesus, aware in His spirit that they were reasoning that way within themselves, said to them, ‘Why are you reasoning about these things in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, “Your sins are forgiven’; or to say, “Get up, and pick up your pallet and walk”? But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins’—He said to the paralytic, ‘I say to you, get up, pick up your pallet and go home.’ And he got up and immediately picked up the pallet and went out in the sight of everyone, so that they were all amazed and were glorifying God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this.’” Mark 2:5-12 – cf. Matthew 9:1-8; Luke 5:18-26; 7:48-49
“for He had healed many, with the result that all those who had afflictions pressed around Him in order to touch Him. Whenever the unclean spirits saw Him, they would fall down before Him and shout, ‘You are the Son of God!’” Mark 3:10-11
Yet according to the OT, it is Yahweh alone who forgives sins, heals all diseases, and knows what people are thinking within their own hearts! (Cf. 1 Kings 8:39, 46-50; 1 Chronicles 28:9; Psalm 103:2-4; Isaiah 43:25; Daniel 9:9; Micah 7:18-19.)
Now as far as Jesus’ moral purity and essential goodness are concerned, Mark tells us that Christ is none other than the Holy One of God who has complete authority over all unclean spirits:
“Just then there was a man in their synagogue with an unclean spirit; and he cried out, saying, ‘What business do we have with each other, Jesus of Nazareth? Have You come to destroy us? I know who You are—the Holy One of God!’ And Jesus rebuked him, saying, ‘Be quiet, and come out of him!’ Throwing him into convulsions, the unclean spirit cried out with a loud voice and came out of him. They were all amazed, so that they debated among themselves, saying, ‘What is this? A new teaching with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey Him.” Mark 1:23-27
Luke tells us that Jesus has been absolutely holy from his very conception!
“Mary said to the angel, ‘How can this be, since I am a virgin?’ The angel answered and said to her, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy Child shall be called the Son of God.’” Luke 1:34-35 – cf. John 6:69; Acts 3:14-15; 7:52; 22:14
The Father himself testifies that he is perfectly pleased with Christ, his beloved Son, something which would not be possible if Jesus was anything less than absolutely good:
“Immediately coming up out of the water, He saw the heavens opening, and the Spirit like a dove descending upon Him; and a voice came out of the heavens: ‘You are My beloved Son, in You I AM WELL-PLEASED.’” Mark 1:10-11 – cf. John 8:29
In fact, Christ’ purity and goodness are such that he is able to redeem many individuals by his sacrificial death on the cross:
“For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom FOR MANY.” Mark 10:45 – cf. Matthew 20:28; 1 Timothy 2:6; Revelation 5:9-10; 7:9-14
“While they were eating, He took some bread, and after a blessing He broke it, and gave it to them, and said, ‘Take it; this is My body.’ And when He had taken a cup and given thanks, He gave it to them, and they all drank from it. And He said to them, ‘This is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out FOR MANY.’” Mark 14:22-24 – cf. Matthew 26:26-28; Luke 22:19-20
The angel himself told Joseph that one of the reasons why Jesus came into the world was to save his people from their sins:
“She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” Matthew 1:21
However, in order for Jesus to be able to redeem anyone from his/her transgressions he must be God since the OT is clear that no man is capable of offering Yahweh a ransom to save a single human life, let alone countless number of individuals. This is why the prophetic writings emphatically testify that it is God alone who redeems people from their sins and death:
“NO MAN can by any means redeem his brother Or give to God a ransom for him—For the redemption of his soul is costly, And he should cease trying forever—That he should live on eternally, That he should not undergo decay… As sheep they are appointed for Sheol; Death shall be their shepherd; And the upright shall rule over them in the morning, And their form shall be for Sheol to consume So that they have no habitation. But God will redeem my soul from the power of Sheol, For He will receive me. Selah.” Psalm 49:7-9, 14-15
“O Israel, hope in the LORD; For with the LORD there is lovingkindness, And with Him is abundant redemption. And He will redeem Israel From all his iniquities.” Psalm 130:7-8
Jesus himself went on to tell his followers right after the rich man had walked away from him that it is impossible for men to save themselves. In perfect agreement with the inspired OT writings, Christ affirms that God alone is capable of saving anyone:
“And Jesus, looking around, said to His disciples, ‘How hard it will be for those who are wealthy to enter the kingdom of God!’ The disciples were amazed at His words. But Jesus answered again and said to them, ‘Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.’ They were even more astonished and said to Him, ‘Then who can be saved?’ Looking at them, Jesus said, ‘With people it is impossible, but not with God; for all things are possible with God.’” Mark 10:23-27 – cf. Matthew 19:23-26; Luke 18:24-27
In light of the above, does Williams really expect us to believe that in Mark 10:17-18 Christ was actually denying his essential goodness? Can he not discern from the explicit statements of both Christ and Mark which are found all throughout this Gospel that Jesus is absolutely holy and perfectly good, so much so that he is able to ransom many human lives by his vicarious sufferings? And does he not see how this proves that Jesus is God?
Notice the logic behind this:
A. No man is capable of ransoming another human being since the price is too costly. This is why only God is able to save anyone.
B. Jesus is able redeem a whole host of individuals by his substitutionary death on the cross.
C. Jesus must, therefore, be God in order for him to able to save anyone.
The following Evangelical theologian does an excellent job of summarizing the evidence from Mark’s Gospel which shows that Jesus is God:
“… Mark wanted his readers to know that Jesus was ‘the Son of God’ in a unique sense. Thus, when God announces that Jesus is his Son in 1:11 and 9:7, Mark’s Greek reveals the unique nature of his sonship. In each instance, Mark uses the Greek adjective agapetos (‘only beloved’) in what Greek grammarians call the ‘second attributive position.’ An adjective in this position receives particular stress. In both 1:11 and 9:7, therefore, God says that Jesus is ‘my son – the uniquely beloved one.’ The high priest at Jesus’ trial seems to understand the unusual connotation of Jesus’ claim to divine sonship in the parable of the wicked tenants (12:6). Looking for a conviction, he asks Jesus the apparently astounding question, ‘Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One?’ (14:61).
“The unique nature of Jesus' relationship to God is evident throughout Mark's narrative. When Jesus forgives the sins of the paralytic in 2:5, the scribes think disapprovingly, ‘Who can forgive sins but God alone?’ Although the question is rhetorical – the scribes intend it to be a statement of the obvious truth that Jesus has usurped a divine prerogative – it prompts the Christian reader to think of Jesus as acting in the way God acts. Mark has led us to think of Jesus as God. This impression is confirmed in 4:41 when, after stilling the raging storm, the disciples ask, ‘Who is this that even the wind and the waves obey him?’ The disciples know that the stilling of raging storms is the business of Yahweh (Ps. 65:7; 89:9; 107:28-30), and their question implies the unthinkable – that when they are in the presence of Jesus, they are in the presence of God himself.
“The same implication arises from Jesus’ question to the rich man. Jesus asks, ‘Why do you call me good? No one is good - except God alone’ (10:18). We know by this time in the narrative that Jesus is good; as the people of the Decapolis have said, ‘He has done everything well’ (7:37). But if Jesus is good and no one is good but God alone, then it implies that Jesus is God.” (Frank Thielman, Theology of the New Testament: A Canonical and Synthetic Approach, [Zondervan, Grand Rapids, MI 2005], Chapter 3. Mark: The Death of God's Son As Good News, pp. 63-64; bold emphasis ours)
Williams may be wondering at this point why did Jesus even bother to question the ruler’s confession if Christ explicitly taught and truly believed that he is intrinsically good?
The answer is rather simple: Jesus’ point to the man is that if he really believed that Christ was good then this means he must also believe that Jesus is God since God alone is good. If this is the case then the man must be willing to forsake all he has in order to follow Jesus wholeheartedly, otherwise his confession is nothing more than lip service aimed at flattering Christ. As the context shows, the man didn’t truly believe what he was saying since he refused to give up his riches for Jesus.
Now with that said, pay careful attention to what Williams writes concerning this pericope:
Did Mr S Shamoun notice that Jesus does not tell the man that he must put his faith in Jesus, or that salvation is solely dependent on Jesus dying to atone for his sins? As a humble Jew Jesus recognizes that the attribute of goodness is found perfectly in God alone, not in himself; that to sincerely obey the commands of the Torah is the main road to salvation, but in this individual’s case he lacked just one thing – he needed to give away his wealth to the poor and this would result in his gaining treasure in heaven. Did Mr S Shamoun note carefully the sequence?
Williams’ statements indicate that he either doesn’t read his sources carefully, or has absolutely no problem twisting them in order to support his agenda and crusade against Biblical Christianity. Notice the words of Christ carefully:
“Jesus said to him, ‘If you wish to be complete, go and sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; AND COME, FOLLOW ME.” Mark 10:21 – cf. Matthew 19:21; Luke 18:22
Did Williams bother to pay attention to Jesus explicitly telling the young man that performing the commandments isn’t enough for salvation, but that he had to give up all his riches in order to follow Christ to be complete?
In fact, Jesus himself expressly told his followers that they must love him more than anything and anyone, and be willing to give up everything for him, even their very own lives, if they wish to be saved:
“And He summoned the crowd with His disciples, and said to them, ‘If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for MY SAKE and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul? For what will a man give in exchange for his soul? For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will also be ashamed of him when He comes in the glory of HIS Father with the holy angels.’” Mark 8:34-38 – cf. Matthew 16:24-27; Luke 9:23-26
“He who loves father or mother more than ME is not worthy of ME; and he who loves son or daughter more than ME is not worthy of ME. And he who does not take his cross and follow after ME is not worthy of ME. He who has found his life will lose it, and he who has lost his life for MY SAKE will find it.” Matthew 10:37-39
“Now large crowds were going along with Him; and He turned and said to them, ‘If anyone comes TO ME, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple. Whoever does not carry his own cross and come AFTER ME cannot be My disciple… So then, none of you can be My disciple who does not give up all his own possessions.’” Luke 14:25-27, 33
In light of this, does Williams not see that Jesus’ own words conclusively prove that salvation comes from trusting in and following him, not by observing the commands of the Torah? Or was he too busy trying to force the Gospels to fit in with his presuppositions to even bother noticing Christ’s explicit statements to this fact?
It is time to move on to the next part of my rebuttal.